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Review: When quad-cores collide: AMD Phenom 9600 vs Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600

by Tarinder Sandhu on 19 November 2007, 11:31

Tags: Core 2 Quad Q6600, Phenom X4 9600, Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), AMD (NYSE:AMD), PC

Quick Link: HEXUS.net/qakf3

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Final thoughts



Summarising our thoughts on the Phenom 9600 first, AMD has seen Intel's desktop processor line-up transform from the ageing, slow Pentium to the Core-derived Duo and, a year ago, the Core 2 Quad.

Irrespective of whether you think that Intel's glue-dual-cores-together approach is architecturally inelegant, the fact remains that Core 2 Quad - in both its Kentsfield and new-and-improved Penryn flavours - is a fast and efficient processor in practically every way. AMD tried to match Intel's single-processor performance with its ill-fated '4x4 QuadFather' enthusiast proposition but has had to wait a year before releasing a couple of single-die quad-core parts.

We've disseminated all the various enhancements that make Phenom a better clock-for-clock proposition than Athlon 64 X2. We've identified that the design is elegant and maximises the architecture it's based upon, which remains largely K8. But what we've also seen is that AMD cannot match the clock-speed of Intel's slowest quad-core processor and, worse still, can't match Core 2 Quad's performance on a clock-for-clock basis either.

Put simply, AMD's best quad-core CPU last week was the Phenom 9700. Now, though, it's the Phenom 9600: AMD cannot produce effective yields at 2.4GHz. We can debate all day whether the majority of consumer software is threaded enough to take advantage of four execution cores, but the immutable fact remains that AMD's fastest quad-core offering is slower than Intel's slowest. Compounding this depressing statement for AMD is the January 2008 launch of Penryn-based Core 2 Quads, furthering Intel's performance dominance.

AMD's nascent Phenom also suffers under the considerable yoke of Intel's Core 2 Quad 6600 pricing, which at £165 for a hugely-overclockable 2.4GHz part is something of a bargain. AMD, though, is pitching its slightly underperforming quad-core part at roughly the same price. The industry needs AMD to survive and succeed yet it's very difficult to make a compelling buying recommendation for a processor that's a year behind its competitor - one who has already moved on to a more-efficient 45nm manufacturing process - is between 10-20 percent slower in most benchmarks, and costs much the same.

Our HEXUS.bang4buck graphs show that AMD needs to lower the pricing of the Phenom 9600 to, say, around £135 before it becomes a genuinely viable option to Intel's '6600, should your usage pattern reflect that of a heavy multitasker. If the Phenom 9600's pricing (£159) stays exactly where it is right now, it's a case of too little, too late, we're afraid.

Inextricably linked in with the new processor is the 7-series chipset. We're more bullish for its chances to succeed, primarily due to a lack of current competition from NVIDIA. The 790FX is geared for the enthusiast and is only hamstrung by its poorly-performing southbridge.

Lastly, the Spider platform - where AMD tries to harness the innate synergies of its processors, chipsets and GPUs - can be bettered by a mix-and-match assortment of Intel and NVIDIA hardware, we feel.

This conclusion isn't a vitriolic fulmination against AMD at all, folks. Rather, its products, whilst undeniably better than what it's produced before, don't quite match up to the progress made by its immediate competitors in the last 18 months. AMD's running forward in the right direction; it's just that Intel and NVIDIA appear to be sprinting that way too.

Bottom line: the new Phenom quad-core processor and 7-series chipset pack in some potent technology. Trouble is, Intel got there first. You need to be better than the competition if coming from behind: AMD's new launches aren't quite that.

HEXUS Awards

We reserve absolute judgement until we review a full-production processor and motherboard. Right now, pressed for buying advice, we'd recommend our readers opt for the competition's processor, chipset, and graphics cards.

HEXUS Right2Reply

At HEXUS.net, we invite the companies whose products we test to comment on our articles. If any of AMD's representatives choose to do so, we'll publish their commentary here verbatim.

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HEXUS Forums :: 24 Comments

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Shame I was hoping AMD would at least beat Intel in the low end Quads, if only for more competition between the two. Looks like C2Q will be king for a while to come.
theres a rumour already about, with some credibility, that a cpu microcode fault akin to that Intel had not long ago, is cause for some system freezing when getting above 2.4Ghz which resulted in the part being delayed. if its just going to use b3 fixed cores for everything 2.4ghz up to 3Ghz shortly after xmas thats not bad.

but also has to be said, £145 for the 100mhz slower 9500 would be the chip that will sell most. almost no one is stupid enough to pay, probably in the £200-250 region for a 9700 at 2.4Ghz, when you can get a 9500 for £145 at 2.2Ghz.

the only real thing we need to know is, how do they overclock. as nice an idea as quads are, about the best game to use them, supreme commander, dual to quad core is 1-2% faster, completely not noticeable. Crysis barely loads dual cores effectively, let along quad cores and thats likely to be the most cpu/gpu taxing game for a year.

frankly, if you can get a quad to hit 3Ghz theres nothing you're lacking really in any area. single core games/old games and software a 3Ghz will be more than enough. newer dual core games, 3Ghz will be enough for the next year or two, at which point quad core might be used a little better, and you'll have 2 spare cores.

frankly, for 99% of users you won't see a difference in games on any dual/quad once you pass 2.4Ghz.

we've also seen a few phenoms around that hit 3Ghz(9500's), and some that can run stock and with ok overclocks at 0.95v. it would be interesting to know how much power a 0.95v cpu was using.

there does need to be a “killer” app for the chip though. one that optimises single core performance for old software, one that could all but turn off 3 cores and leave one ticking over night at half speed and very little power. one thats just for max performance, one for max dual core performance. 4 buttons where you can test to find the best settings then simply click a button in the task bar before opening up a game.
Disapointed with the power draw considering I thought that was one area where it could beat Intel.

Also a shame that it does not seem to reach the IPC of Intel's old 65nm process, never mind the new 45nm process which is 5% or so better. The power draw on that is lower too.

Mid table mediocrity unfortunately.
yes and no, i haven't really seen any numbers on the 790 range of chipsets, it might be using quite a bit of power.

but the real power numbers will only be seen a bit later. will a phenom system in low power mode at very low speed voltage be better than intels idle power? i don't know what the lowest multiplier the overdrive app will give, or if you can literally turn one core off, but i'm sure i've seen 2 or 3x in pics of that app, which means when used theres definately the ability to run lower voltage and power than any intel board i've seen.

but also for full power gaming, will two cores on the phenom even overclocked a lot with two cores down at lowest power run a game better with lower power than a Q6600 overclocked to similar speeds but without the ability to turn the voltage/speed down on spare cores.

but as with all things, in Q1, hopefully by feb we should be seeing a range of 2.2-3Ghz quads from amd, on a b3 stepping, which could overclock as well as intels . but like now with circa 3Ghz intel quads, the q6600 is the only chip selling. If amd's b3 step 2.2Ghz chips are £20 cheaper and just as overclockable as intels q6600 then why pay more.

but theres a range of 790fx boards already cheaper than x38 boards, let alone x48. the ability for 4x cheapo 3850 512mb cards. the good thing will be the serious range of combinations we'll be able to have. you can sli two 3850 512's for £240 or so, compared to £340 for gt's. you can go for a 2 slot 790 board for a lot cheaper than a similar spec x38/48 board.


amd do keep bumbling through launches at the moment, and coming later than they should, often making the wrong decisions.

but it all seems to me at the moment they are simply putting effort into the next core which isn't slated for too long away in the grand scheme of things. with a fairly different take, multi core, specialised cores, small gpu's on die. which would hopefully account for the lacklustre products coming out.

but for the budget amongst us, a £70 790 board, with a £145 quad that (i think we will see) can do 3Ghz + easily) with a couple of 3850's in for cheap will make for a very good gaming rig for a lot cheaper than we've seen in recent years.

there are several things to consider, intel won't drop prices largely on the newer penryn's as despite dropping manu size, the extra cache is going to make for a massive core so yields per waifer aren't going up a lot, amd might be suffering on performance due to lack of cache but yeild wise more cache = less chips per waifer = less profits and less ability to compete on price. they are still the massive underdog with a lot less money to throw at chip design. in general given the companies backgrounds amd SHOULD be slower, but cheaper, as they were till they got a little big for their boots.

its been said their chips increase in performance a lot at higher speeds. if the core is balanced to just work a little better at higher clocks, thats perfectly possible. IE a 2.4Ghz phenom might be 15% off a 2.4Ghz q6600, but a 2.8Ghz phenom might be 5% behind a 2.8Ghz kentsfield, we'll have to see about that at later dates.

but also bear in mind that benchmarks aren't the be all end all. remember the gaming benchies were low res, the difference in fps between chips at high res(or whatever res you are using thats gpu limited) will be not noticeable.
Dissappointing - I knew they'd be behind, but not that much behind.